American Sign Language is an unspoken language based on the English language that consists of hand gestures called signs. For those who are deaf or hearing-impaired, American Sign Language is a way of life. Often, when a person cannot hear, sign language may be their most common means of communication with fellow deaf people as well as the hearing people in their lives. For many others, however, communicating with someone who is deaf or hard of hearing may be a new concept. Learning American Sign Language is an excellent way to begin communicating with those with hearing impairments. Even for those who do not personally know anyone who is hearing impaired, knowing American Sign Language is an exceptional skill to have.
When a person begins to learn American Sign Language, the first step is generally to learn the alphabet. The American Sign Language alphabet consists of the same letters that exist within the English alphabet. For each of the 26 letters, there is an American Sign Language hand gesture that portrays it. Learning some of the letters of the alphabet in American Sign Language is fairly simple for those who are already familiar with English, as quite a few letters are signed in a manner that looks the same as the letter is written. The letters "C", "L," and "O," for instance, are usually easily remembered and signed. Other letters, such as "Q" and "H," may take more practice to identify and sign correctly.
Numbers in American Sign Language are simply a matter of counting fingers from zero to five; however, the process requires some practice and studying when the numbers get higher. Some numbers that could easily be shown using both hands are actually signed differently than many people expect. For instance, the number nine is signed in American Sign Language by placing the index finger and the thumb downward, keeping the other three fingers in the air versus simply using two hands to show nine fingers. Utilizing number charts and watching videos is the best way to learn how to sign numbers to those who are deaf to ensure that they understand what is being communicated to them.
American Sign Language conversational phrases are very similar to the conversational phrases used within the hearing community. It is still important to greet and inquire how a person is doing when having a conversation in sign language. American Sign Language phrases are best learned by the use of practice, videos, and visual aids. The meanings of certain words within phrases in American Sign Language can change or offer more insight depending on how long the sign is held or by adding facial expressions to the signs. These cues and a person's body language in general are vitally important to conversations with the deaf or hard of hearing and are equally as important as the signs themselves in most cases.
Learning Sign Language
Learning sign language is very much like learning a foreign language. Although American Sign Language is based on the English language, it is a language of its own. Learning the entire language takes dedication and a lot of practice; however, learning even a few signs can be extremely useful when communicating with the hearing-impaired. There are a vast array of resources available in many different formats for those who wish to learn the language. In fact, learning sign language has become very popular in recent years among new parents wishing to communicate with their young, non-verbal babies. Regardless of the reason behind learning American Sign Language, it is a valuable skill to develop.
Alternatives to American Sign Language
While sign language is the most popular way for people in the deaf community to communicate with one another as well as with those with the ability to hear, there are many alternatives to American Sign Language. Across the world, there are different variations of sign language, much like there are English and Spanish and other languages in the hearing world. The type of sign language that is used depends greatly upon location. Cochlear implants are another popular means of communication that are rapidly gaining popularity among the deaf community. Cochlear implants are small electronic devices that help those that are predominately deaf gain a sense of hearing, although they are not effective for every deaf person. Other ways to communicate with those who are deaf or hard of hearing include writing notes on paper or even speaking normally if the hearing-impaired individual one is speaking to is able to read lips. There are numerous resources that provide more information about sign language, deaf culture, and alternative communication tactics for the hearing impaired.